Audit of Lincoln library and museum shows gaps in internal controls

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SPRINGFIELD — Leadership at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum assured state lawmakers Tuesday that its new policies for loaning artifacts will correct the insufficient oversight that led to the improper loan of an original copy of the Gettysburg Address in 2018.

Acting Executive Director Melissa Coultas said the agency has established safeguards to protect the safety of artifacts and collection items, including a new policy that requires the library’s board to approve any loan requests.

Lack of loan oversight was one of 15 total findings made by the state auditor general in its first compliance audit since the library became an independent state agency, separate from the Historical Preservation Agency in 2017.

The agency’s lack of controls over the preparation and review of receipts and refunds, incomplete or inaccurate reporting of its property records, failure to maintain adequate records management and inadequate control over employee performance evaluations were among the findings described in the audit report covering fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Coultas testified Tuesday before a meeting of the Legislative Audit Commission, which is a bipartisan committee mandated by law to review all audits conducted by the state auditor general.

The library agreed with all of the recommendations, implemented five of the recommendations and partially implemented 10 of them, according to the audit.

Coultas has served as acting executive director of the agency since former director Alan Lowe was fired in September 2019 after loaning a copy of the Gettysburg Address that was handwritten by Lincoln to a popup exhibit in Texas run by conservative media personality Glenn Beck.

In 2019, the state’s Office of the Inspector General released details of an investigation into the incident that found Lowe agreed to send the artifact via FedEx only eight days after initial discussions began about the loan with Mercury One Inc., a nonprofit corporation founded by Beck. A written loan request for the artifact was also not made in this case.

In response to questions about the library’s updated loan policy, Coultas said the agency now requires that an internal collections committee first decide whether to recommend approval of the loan. She said the final decision would then go to the library’s board of trustees, which would decide whether to approve the committee’s recommendation. This process did not happen with the Gettysburg Address loan to Beck, Coultas said.

“We feel at this point that a situation like lending the Gettysburg Address cannot happen because, one, the process of putting this in front of a board of trustees slows down the process itself,” she said. “It also requires that all the documentation be in order before recommending it to the board. So, we feel that this policy is the protective action that needed to be in place and it remains the preventive action to ensure that something like this never happens again.”

Aside from the findings in the audit, Coultas was asked about the firing of former state historian Samuel Wheeler last year. In 2019, Wheeler authored a report that raised doubts about the authenticity of a stovepipe hat purportedly owned by Lincoln and purchased by the ALPLM Foundation in 2007 for $25 million as part of a larger collection.

Coultas confirmed Wheeler was “terminated” but declined to provide further information about the details surrounding his firing, citing privacy concerns regarding personnel matters.

The auditor’s report comes amid the naming of a new executive director and a new chairman of the board.

Chairman Ray LaHood resigned earlier this month after the U.S. Department of Justice revealed he failed to disclose a $50,000 loan from a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire on government ethics forms when he received the loan in 2012.

Gary Johnson, a lawyer and former president of the Chicago History Museum, was appointed chairman of the ALPLM board, according to a new release issued Monday. Johnson has served on the board since September 2019

Last month, the library board announced that Christina Shutt, who currently serves as the director of an African American history and culture museum in Arkansas, will take over the executive director role beginning in June. She will be the first person of color to head the ALPLM since its inception in 2005.

In addition to recent personnel changes, the library cut ties last month with the ALPLM Foundation — a private foundation that handled fundraising efforts.

The memorandum of understanding that provided the framework for the relationship between the library and the foundation expired on March 31 and was not extended.

“For months, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation has been working hard and in good faith to negotiate with the State of Illinois and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to reach a new Memorandum of Understanding to govern the relationship between the parties. Unfortunately, we were unable to come to an agreement,” the foundation wrote in a statement April 1.

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April 20, 2021 at 04:36PM

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